Ministry in Rural America: A Hard Calling

Posted in: DR Blog
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Date: December 19, 2017
By Greg Petrie, District Representative, Northwest District
We offer you no salary, no recompense, no holidays, no pension, but much hard work, a poor dwelling, small consolations, many disappointments, frequent sickness, a violent or lonely death in an unknown grave.'Everyday Questions,' Drew McNeil & Carson Weitnaur

This is not the latest recruiting campaign for Village Missions. It was, however, a 19th century Parisian ad for missionaries. Obviously the writer wanted to make no false claims or promises of lucrative gain, a life of ease and comfort, or an exotic and glamorous adventure of serving as a missionary for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in that century.

In many ways though, this echoes the call to serve as a Village Missionary pastor in a rural community of North America. Ministry in rural America is not all glitz and glamour. It is not all warm-fuzzy experiences of singing Kumbaya in a hand-holding circle after a two-hour prayer meeting of deep and meaningful confession and intercession. If you desire financial security and affluence, widespread admiration and influence, or quantifiable success that will translate into invitations to be the keynote speaker at major pastors’ conferences—then please look elsewhere. Village Missions is not for you!

Village Missions needs those with an unwavering conviction that God has called them to rural ministry in America–to serve Jesus Christ in unremembered places. We seek those compelled to go to a place that is generally small, often isolated, occasionally not even on the map. Sometimes it is a beautiful location but sometimes the “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Village Missions needs those who confess they are not up to the challenge in and of themselves, but trust in the sufficiency of God’s grace to complete the work He has called them to.

The Challenges of Ministry in Rural America

Ministry in rural America is challenging. Rarely do you find the idyllic provincial setting many picture of rural America where “seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day.” It may be that way on occasion, but that scene is soon disrupted by grumbled curses and a coming storm!

The truth is, many rural areas have an economy that is less than robust. Jobs are few and those who do work expend lots of effort just to get by. For many rural communities, any law enforcement is an hour or more away and the response will be limited. Some choose to live there for that very reason. Rural communities are home to many people struggling with poverty, addictions, family dysfunction, medical and mental health needs, and social disorder–all without the resources and services available in metropolitan areas.

Pastoral ministry in rural America can be very demanding and very challenging. Those same challenges provide ample opportunity to share the love of Christ and the truth of the Gospel. Need food? The church usually has a food pantry. Need a ride to a doctor’s appointment 40 miles away? Call the pastor. Family in turmoil? Call the pastor for that too. Need to do community service? Yep, call the pastor. A lonely cantankerous old curmudgeon? “Well, at least the pastor visits me.” It’s not uncommon for many more people to feel he is “their pastor” than ever show up for a church service.

Accepting the Realities of Ministry in Rural America

Amidst those opportunities, expectations must be tempered by the acceptance of the rural reality. The faithful generous old saint graduates to glory, and no one fills the gap. Those you pour your life into may never surrender to Jesus or even attend your church. Those that do come alive and grow may move away to get a better job. You may faithfully preach the Word and love the people for decades while the numbers (“bucks, bodies and buildings”) may change very little—or even decrease!

On a personal level, although Village Missions and the churches we partner with provide sufficient salary support, most Village Missionaries live at a level of financial adequacy. The churches do their best to provide adequate housing, but in many places, that is an older farm house with aging plumbing in one bathroom, small closets, no garage, and maybe a church mouse or two. Your car from the previous century has more miles on it than there are people in your whole county. A midnight Big Mac attack could involve at least a 40-mile drive—each way. Your kids may attend a school with a graduating class in double (or single) digits.

The Potential Rewards of Ministry in Rural America

Don’t misunderstand. Many Village Missionaries–serving in ministry in rural America–do get to experience many people coming to Christ, maturing in their walk, and even entering missionary service themselves. At least where I serve, in the Northwest, over two-thirds of our missionaries had some prior involvement in a church served by Village Missions. Many of our missionaries see growth in the attendance and budget of their churches. Some embark on building programs to better meet the ministry needs. Some even get a chance to speak at a pastors’ conference (though probably not the big ones). Nevertheless, there is no promise or guarantee, and that is not why Village Missionaries go where they go and do what they do.

Village Missions needs those with an unwavering conviction that God has called them to serve as missionary pastors in a rural community of North America. They are committed to that call of ministry in rural America regardless of what it will look like. Village Missions seeks those with a passion to preach the Word and love the people in an area many have forgotten. Some may even call these places “God-forsaken,” but there are people created in the image of God and in need of a Savior, and there is no one else there to show Him to them.

When you show up with a bit of faith and a lot of heart, God shows up too.

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